Shoppers leave the Makro branch of retailer Massmart in this file picture.

Johannesburg - Massmart Holdings Ltd. climbed after the South African food and goods wholesaler owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said earnings gained as much as 37 percent amid a slowdown in the country’s retail sales growth.

The stock rallied as much as 4.1 percent and traded 1.3 percent higher at 116.50 rand as of 2:59 p.m. in Johannesburg, compared with a 0.3 percent rise on the FTSE/JSE Africa General Retailers Index.

Massmart earnings per share were 5.69 rand to 6.14 rand in the 53 weeks ended December 29, compared with 4.50 rand in the equivalent period a year earlier, the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement today.

Massmart said August 22 it will focus on introducing new lines in its fresh-food, clothing and e-commerce units to drive growth.

South African retailers including Shoprite, the country’s largest food chain, and Truworths International, the biggest listed clothing company, have reported slowing sales growth as consumers struggle to repay debt amid rising unemployment.

South African retail sales growth slowed to 3.5 percent in December from a revised 4.4 percent the previous month.

Massmart will report full-year earnings on February 27.

Last year, the company changed its reporting period to align itself with Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, meaning that last February Massmart reported first-half earnings. - Bloomberg News